The Body Pos Project: Interview with Founder Laura Jane Kenny
I met Laura Jane, weirdly enough, on a tour for prospective undergraduate fashion design students at Parsons School of Design in the summer of 2010. I vividly remember this chance encounter for several reasons: Laura and I were both formidable blondes at six-feet tall, and we were very much not prospective fashion design students. Both of us were on the tour to show our moms around the school; however, while I was beginning the new MA Fashion Studies program the following week, Laura Jane was only in the early stages of considering applying. Not to give myself too much credit, but I think that chance meeting (and my enthusiasm for fashion studies) may have pushed her over the edge.
Flash forward one year, and Laura Jane and I would overlap at Parsons as she began her studies and as I finalized my thesis. During our time there, Laura Jane and I would both find ourselves preoccupied with and fascinated by the relationship between dress and the body. However, while I would end up remaining in academia to write about dress and the body, Laura Jane is admirably out there trying to effect real-world change. Through her media platform, The Body Pos Project, Laura Jane and her creative partner are actively challenging the media's construction of ideal beauty by creating a space in which women can share their own journeys to bodily self-love.
As a woman eager to support other women who are introducing a wider audience to fashion studies knowledge, I wrote to her to learn about where the idea came from and where the project is going. What follows is the email transcript from a recent catch-up between Laura Jane and myself.
Lauren: What brought you to start Body Pos and, perhaps more importantly, why now?
Laura Jane: Body image and the societal pressure placed on women's appearances has always been something that I've thought about — both as someone who has grappled with how to manage these pressures and as someone who deeply wants to alleviate them.
Everything kind of came to a head last year, however, when I put on a fashion exhibition entitled “She Was Asking For It.” In the exhibition, I interviewed women who had experienced sexual assault and explored how it impacted the way they dress as survivors. In doing so, I was able to display an example of their "healed" clothing next to their interviews. The show was deeply moving to me and was an incredible experience in my creative practice. After the show had wrapped, one of my takeaways was my desire to pursue a project that resonated with me on a more personal level, and this past fall — when I found myself ready for a new project — I knew I wanted to engage with the nascent body positivity movement.
Watching the movement emerge from deep within activist corners of the internet and into the mainstream over the past several years, I felt like I was bearing witness to a revolution. I was moved and inspired by the communities who were rallying around the notion of creating a more inclusive culture for our daughters. I truly believe that the current movement of body positivity is hugely important, because if body and beauty ideals are cultural constructs — the product of those who speak the loudest, then I want to join the conversation in order to alter the discourse.
Yes! In my own research on plus-size fashion, I’ve also paid witness to the emergence and evolution of the body positivity movement from grassroots activism to the mainstream — particularly that of the fat activist movement, which has done much to draw attention to the ways in which the fashion industry has systematically marginalized fat women through words and images as well as actual garments. Like me, you graduated from the MA Fashion Studies program at Parsons School of Design. How would you say your education has informed your relationship to the body positivity movement, and how it has shaped the Body Pos project in particular?
At Parsons, I was able to research and study the relationship between personal identity, individuality, social pressures and how these impact, relate to, or influence personal dress. I wrote my graduate thesis on the role of dress in racial profiling. So I've had all of these considerations of the power of personal dress and the power of individual expression percolating in my head for a few years. Then I landed a job working for some amazing fashion art directors.
My art direction skills grew as I learned and explored the brand side of image making. I don't want to say that the pressures of idealized body image is the sole fault of brands or magazine, although I think it's easy to see how they are a part of it. I think it's a larger cultural issue that we all take part in with every picture we like on Instagram. I have had the pleasure of working for brands where the respect for women is obvious and sincere. For the most part, the people I worked with wanted to create an atmosphere where women and their bodies were respected. But, as many acknowledge, much about the industry is problematic. And I have spent much of my adult life steeped in worlds where the image of a woman's body is revered, worshipped, scorned, critiqued, and overall objectified. I had felt the personal impact of being around that. I wanted to stay engaged with this world while exploring how to advance its evolution. I had the ability to explore these interests at Parsons and I wanted to create a project where I could interview and explore topics in fashion that I found deeply interesting and important. Parsons opened up a world to me in which I want to stay immersed.
So. Let’s talk about Body Pos now. You recently got it fully funded (in record time!) via Kickstarter. Congratulations! Tell me a bit about what you guys are doing and how folks are responding.
The idea for the Body Pos Project really came from a genuine curiosity about how women maintained a positive body image. I followed all of these women on Instagram who posted beautiful, bold images of themselves that weren't always flattering. Some of the women that I followed seemed so confident in the way they presented their imagery – so proud to be taking up space, posing in ways that mimics fashion spreads. I was really impressed and wanted to pick their brains about how they did it. And then I thought, wouldn't it be helpful for a lot of women to read what they have to say? Maybe more women could feel the way these women feel.
I had one or two friends who I thought would be good to interview. But most of the women were recommended to me once I started working on the project. I made a very modest mockup of what I imagined this project to look like. And one evening, my friend Erin and I were having drinks and I told her about my idea. She and I had always talked about this topic – we both deeply care about women's issues. She loved the concept and wanted to jump in. We had previously worked on “She Was Asking For It” and I knew Erin to be a fantastic graphic designer and coworker. We started spending nights and weekends poring over the project.
The design and aesthetic is a crucial element of the Body Pos Project. We wanted to approach this matter with the consideration and conciseness of a major brand. So often issues that fall under the feminine umbrella aren't given the weight they deserve in terms of branding, seriousness or respect. We wanted to prioritize that.
This is such a noble and important pursuit. We certainly need more spaces in which we can explore an expansive, inclusive, and intersectional kind of femininity. You have so much to be proud of already, but what does the future hold for the project?
Endless possibilities! We have our eyes on a number of goals, but our most important is reaching the most women we can. We are spending the next few months growing our base and following.